Coast Guard, Honolulu Fire Department Rescue Pilots After Cargo Plane Crashes off Hawaii

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U.S. Coast Guard cutter patrol 737 cargo plane crash off Oahu.
A U.S. Coast Guard cutter patrols the area of debris from a 737 cargo plane that crashed off Oahu, Friday, July 2, 2021, near Honolulu. (Craig T. Kojima/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

HONOLULU — A cargo plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii early Friday, and both people on board were rescued.

The pilots of Transair Flight 810 reported engine trouble and were trying to return to Honolulu when they were forced to land the Boeing 737 in the water, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Coast Guard Lt. Commander Karin Evelyn said in an email that the agency received a report around 1:40 a.m. of a downed interisland transport plane. About an hour later, rescuers in a Coast Guard helicopter spotted the debris field and two people in the water, Evelyn said.

Air traffic control communications to the rescue crew captured the moment the pilots were found. A rescuer in a dispatched U.S. Coast Guard helicopter said: “We do have an aircraft in the water ... we’re currently overhead (the) debris field.”

Minutes later, “We have zero-two souls in sight in the water.”

The tower responded, “OK, so you have both guys, both souls in sight?”

“Both souls in sight, yes sir,” the rescuers responded.

The pilots were not in a life raft when they were rescued.

“One was on the tail and the other clinging to packages,” Evelyn wrote to The Associated Press. “As the MH-65 approached the airplane began to sink putting the individual on the tail in the water. The crews hoisted them safely on the aircraft. The rescue swimmer then assisted the other individual.”

One person was hoisted into the helicopter and taken to Queen's Medical Center, Evelyn said. The Honolulu Fire Department rescued the other person, she said. Their identities were not immediately released.

Queen’s officials said a 58-year-old was in the intensive care unit in critical condition, according to Hawaii News Now. A boat brought the other 50-year-old to shore before being transported to the hospital in serious condition with a head injury and multiple lacerations, Hawaii News Now reported.

The plane debris remains, Evelyn said, and the Coast Guard will evaluate the pollution at first light.

According to the state Department of Transportation, the plane debris was found about 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) off Oahu, Hawaii News Now reported. The plane was flying from Honolulu to Maui.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate. The NTSB said in a tweet that it will send a team of 10 investigators.

The plane involved in Friday’s incident is a 46-year-old Boeing 737-200, a much earlier version of the 737 than the Max, and one that U.S. airlines no longer use for passenger flights. There are fewer than 60 737-200s still flying worldwide, according to aviation-data researcher Cirium.

The Boeing 737 first flew in the late 1960s and is the most popular airline plane still in production. Boeing has delivered more than 10,500 of them and has unfilled orders for about 4,000 more, almost all of those for the latest version of the plane, the 737 Max.

Over the years, about 200 737s have been destroyed in crashes and several hundred others have been involved in less serious accidents and incidents, according to the Aviation Safety Network database.

“For a jet that has been in production for so long and is being used so extensively, 203 hull-loss accidents can be considered a very good safety record,” said Harro Ranter, who runs the database. He said the plane’s accident rate improved dramatically from the first models to more recent ones that preceded the Max.

Boeing said in a statement: “We are aware of the reports out of Honolulu, Hawaii and are closely monitoring the situation. We are in contact with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and are working to gather more information.”

There have been some water landings over the years in which people survived, the most famous being the 2009 crash of a US Airways flight in New York's Hudson River where all 155 people on board survived.

All four people on board survived a cargo plane crash into water short of a runway in Gabon in 2011.

In other cases, some passengers and crew survived but some died, including a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane that ran out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean in 1996, a Tunisian airliner that went down off the coast of Sicily in 2005, and an Indonesian airliner that landed in a river during a thunderstorm in 2002.

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Koenig reported from Dallas. Monroe reported from Phoenix.

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